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"About the time of Christ's appearance upon earth,* there were two kinds of philosophy which prevailed among the civilized nations. One was the philosophy of the Greeks, adopted also by the Romans; and the other, that of the Orientals, which had a great number of votaries in Persia, Syria, Chaldea, Egypt, and even among the Jews."
The Greek and Roman mode of thought and reasoning, was designated by the simple title of PHILOSOPHY.† That of the eastern nations, as opposed to it, was called GNOSTICISM.
The Philosophy, signified only the love and pursuit of wisdom.
The Gnosis, signified the perfection and full attainment of wisdom itself.
The followers of both these systems, as we might naturally suppose, split and subdivided into innumerable sects and parties. It must be observed however, that while the Philosophers, or those of the Grecian and Roman school, were infinitely divided, and held no common principle of union among themselves, some of them being opposed to all religion whatever; the Gnostics, or adherents of the oriental system, deduced all their various tenets from one fundamental principle, that of their common deism, and universally professed themselves to be the restorers of the knowledge of God, which was lost in the world. St. Paul mentions and condemns both these modes of thought and reasoning; that of the Greeks, in his Epistle to the Colossians, and that of the Orientals, in his first to Timothy.§
The GNOSIS, or Gnosticism, comprehends the doctrine of the Magi, the philosophy of the Persians, Chaldeans, and Arabians, and the wisdom of the Indians and Egyptians. It is distinctly to be traced in the text and doctrines of the New Testament. It was from the bosom of this pretended oriental wisdom, that the chiefs of those sects, which, in the three first centuries, perplexed the Christian church, originally issued. The name itself signified, that its professors taught the way to the true knowledge of the * Our author means any time about or near the era of Augustus. + Η Φιλοσοφία. * Η Γνωσις.
Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit.Coloss. ii. 8. Avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science, falsely so called.-1 Tim. vi. 20.
The Magi, or wise men of the east, (Matthew ii. 1,) i. e. the Brahmins, who first got up the allegorical story of CHRISHNA.
Deity. Their most distinguished sect inculcated the notion of a triumvirate of beings, in which the Supreme Deity was distinguished both from the material evil principle, and from the creator of this sublunary world.
The PHILOSOPHY, comprehended the Epicureans the most virtuous and rational of men, who maintained that wisely consulted pleasure, was the ultimate end of man; the Academics, who placed the height of wisdom in doubt and scepticism; the Stoics, who maintained a fortitude indifferent to all events; the Aristotelians, who, after their master, Aristotle, held the most subtle disputations concerning God, religion, and the social duties, maintaining that the nature of God resembles the principle that gives motion to a machine, that it is happy in the contemplation of itself, and entirely regardless of human affairs; the Platonists, from their master Plato, who taught the immortality of the soul, the doctrine of the trinity, of the manifestation of a divine man, who should be crucified, and the eternal rewards and punishments of a future life; and from all these resulting, the Eclectics, who, as their names signifies elected, and chose what they held to be wise and rational, out of the tenets of all sects, and rejected whatever was considered futile and pernicious. The Eclectics held Plato in the highest reverence. college or chief establishment was at Alexandria in Egypt. Their founder was supposed to have been one Potamon. The most indubitable testimonies prove, that this Philosophy was in a flourishing state, at the period assigned to the birth of Christ. The Eclectics are the same whom we find described as the Therapeuts or Essenes of Philo, and whos e sacred writings are, by Eusebius, shown to be the same as our gospels. Nought, but the supposed expediency of deceiving the vulgar, and of perpetuating ignorance, hinders the historian to whom I am, for the substance of this chapter, so much indebted, from acknowledging the fact, that in every rational sense that can be attached to the word, they were the authors and real founders of Christianity.
ADMISSIONS OF CHRISTIAN WRITERS.
IN studying the writings of the early advocates of Christianity, and fathers of the, Christian church; where we should naturally look for the language that would indicate
the real occurrence of the facts of the gospel, if real occurrences they had ever been; not only do we find no such sort of language, but every where, find we, any sort of sophistical ambages, ramblings from the subject, and evasions of the very business before them, as if of purpose to balk our research, and insult our scepticism. If we travel to the very sepulchre of Christ, we have only to discover that he was never there: history seeks evidence of his existence as a man, but finds no more trace of it, than of the shadow that flitted across the wall. The star of Bethlehem shone not upon her path, and the order of the universe was suspended without her observance. She asks with the Magi of the east, "where is he that is born King of the Jews," and like them, finds no solution of her inquiry, but the guidance that guides as well to one place as another; descriptions that apply to Esculapius, as well as to Jesus; prophecies, without evidence that they were ever prophesied; miracles, which those who are said to have seen, are said also to have denied that they saw; narratives without authorities, facts without dates, and records without names.
Where we should naturally look for the evidence of recentness, and a mode of expression suitable to the character of witnesses, or of those who had conversed with witnesses, we not only find no such modes of expression; but both the recorded language and actions of the parties, are found to be entirely incongruous, and out of keeping with the supposition of such a character. We find the discourses of the very first preachers and martyrs of this religion, outraging all chronology, by claiming the honours of an even then remote antiquity, for the doctrines they taught.
1. We find St. Stephen,* the very first martyr of Christianity, in the very city where its stupendous events are supposed to have happened, and, as our Bible chronologies inform us, within the very year in which they happened; and on the very occasion on which above all others that could be imagined, he must, and would have borne testimony to them, as constituting the evidences of his faith, the justification of his conduct, and the grounds of his martyrdom; nevertheless, bearing no such testimony; yea! not so much as glancing at those events, but found
STEPHEN, a name of the same order as Nicodemus, Philip, Andrew, Alexander, &c., entirely of Grecian origin, ascribed to Jews, who never had such names, nor any like them.
ing his whole argument on the ancient legends of the Jewish superstition. What a falling off is there!
2. We find St. Paul, the very first Apostle of the Gentiles, expressly avowing that "he was made a minister of the gospel, which had already been preached to every creature under heaven;" (Col. i. 23,) preaching a god manifest in the flesh, who had been "believed on in the world," (1 Tim. iii. 16,) before the commencement of his ministry; and who therefore could have been no such person as the man of Nazareth, who had certainly not been preached at that time, nor generally believed on in the world, till ages after that time.
3. We find him, moreover, out of all character and consistency of circumstance, assuming the most intolerant airs of arrogance, and snubbing Peter at Antioch, as if he were nobody, or had absolutely been preaching a false doctrine, of which Paul were the more proper judge, and the higher authority. A circumstance absolutely demonstrative that the Peter of the Acts was no such person as the Peter of the Gospels, who would certainly not have suffered himself to be called over the coals, by one who was but a new setter up in the business, but would in all probability have cut his ear off, rapt out a good oath or two, or knock him down with his keys, for such audacious presumption.
4. It is most essentially remarkable, that as these Acts of the Apostles bear internal evidence of being a much later production than the epistles and gospels, and are evidently mixed up with the journals of real adventures of some travelling missionaries; they are not mentioned with the epistles and gospels which had constituted the ancient writings of the Therapeuta. Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, (A. D. 393,) informs us, that at that time, "this book was unknown to many, and by others it was despised."
5. MILL, one of the very highest authorities in biblical literature, tells us, "that the gospels were soon spread abroad, and came into all men's hands; but the case was somewhat different with the other books of the New Testament, particularly the Acts of the Apostles, which were not thought to be so important, and had few transcribers."
6. And BEAUSOBRE acknowledges, that the book of the Acts, had not at the beginning in the eastern churches, the same authority with the gospels and the epistles.
7. LARDNER, (vol. 2, p. 605,) would rather give St. Chrysostom the lie, than surrender to the pregnant consequence of so fatal an admission. The gospels were soon received, for they were ready before the world was awake. The ACTS were a second attempt. Where we should look for marks of distinction, as definite as those which must necessarily and eternally exist between truth and falsehood, between divine wisdom and human weakness, between what man knew by the suggestion of his own unassisted shrewdness, and what he only could have known by the further instruction of divine revelation; not only find we no such lines or characters of distinction, but alas! in the stead and place thereof, we find the most entire and perfect amalgamation, an entire surrender of all challenge to distinction, a complete capitulation, going over, and "hail-fellow-well-met" conjunction, of Jesus and Jupiter. Christianity and Paganism are frankly avowed to have been never more distinct from each other, than six from half-a-dozen, never to have been at variance or divided, but by the mere accidental substitution of one set of names for the other, and the very trifling and immaterial misunderstanding, that the new nomenclature had occa
"Some of the ancientest writers of the church have not scrupled expressly to call the Athenian SOCRATES, and some others of the best of the heathen moralists, by the name of CHRISTIANS, and to affirm, that as the law was as it were a schoolmaster, to bring the Jews unto Christ, so true moral philosophy was to the Gentiles a preparative to receive the gospel."-Clarke's Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion, p. 284.
8.*"And those who lived according to the Logos, (says Clemens Alexandrinus) were really Christians, though they have been thought to be Atheists; as Socrates and Heraclitus were among the Greeks, and such as resembled them."
9. For God, says Origen, revealed these things to them, and whatever things have been well spoken.
10. And if there had been any one to have collected
* Και οι μετα λογο βιώσαντες, χριστιανοι εισι, κ' αν άθεοι ενομισθησαν οιον εν Έλλησι μεν Σωκρατης και Ηρακλειτος και οι ομοιοι αυτοις.-Clemens Alex. Strom. + Ο θεός γαρ αυτοις ταυτα, και οσα καλως λελεκται εφανέρωσε.-Orig. ad Cels. Bib 6.
Quod si extitisset aliquis qui veritatem sparsam per singulos, per sectasque diffusam colligeret in unum, ac redigeret in corpus, is profecto non dissentiret a nobis."--- Lactant. lib. 7.